Redirecting vs. Forwarding Email

Not many email programs can redirect, but it's a useful tool nonetheless

Most people either reply to or forward emails. However, a rarely implemented redirect protocol gets a message from a sender to the right recipient through an intermediary recipient.

Redirecting is also known as remailing.

Redirecting vs. Forwarding Emails
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What Is an Email Redirection?

Redirection is a special case of an email forward. In a standard forward, the person forwarding the message appears to be the sender. In a redirection, the message appears to come from the original sender.

For example, if bob@xyz.com receives a message from sally@abc.com, and Bob forwards it to his colleague fred@xyz.com, it appears to Fred as a forward from Bob. However, if Bob redirects Sally's message, it looks as if it came from Sally directly.

Most modern email clients don't support per-message redirection. The exceptions include The Bat! and Thunderbird.

How Can I Redirect a Message?

One exception is Mozilla Thunderbird. It doesn't support redirection natively. However, it supports add-ons that include this capability. But unlike The Bat!, which inserts a redirect-from header, Thunderbird add-ons rewrite the sender line to indicate the redirecting sender, but on behalf of the original sender. This functionality mimics a pure redirection, but imperfectly.

Can I Redirect All Messages?

Some modern programs support rules-based redirection. For example, the desktop version of Microsoft Outlook supports custom rules that allow for mail meeting specific criteria to be automatically redirected to a different user. Although these rules apply without end-user intervention—meaning, you can't individually redirect messages—it's a great tool for redirecting classes of messages. For example, an Outlook rule can redirect messages from a generic inbound account to a specific user.

Redirection is not the same as configuring an email account to automatically forward all emails (or all emails that meet a rule) to a different address. That process is still forwarding, even if the email program calls it redirection.